The Great Math Mystery


Is mathematics deeply ingrained in the structure of the universe? Or is the case that the universe can be modeled remarkably well by mathematics? The swirl of a nautilus shell, the whirlpool of a galaxy, and the spiral of a sunflower all carry a mathematical signature. History’s greatest minds—from Pythagoras to Einstein—have grappled with the question: is math a human invention, or is it the language of the universe?

The Great Math Mystery, broadcast on April 15 as part of the NOVA series on PBS and supported by the John Templeton Foundation, explored precisely these questions. Presented by astrophysicist and writer Mario Livio, the program presented a mathematical mystery tour that ranged across the centuries, demonstrating the astonishing power of math.

“We can understand our universe because nature has turned out to be full of patterns and regularities that can be captured by equations” explains Max Tegmark, professor of physics at MIT and scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi). “Mathematics is a wonderful gift because with it we gain the power to predict, to develop technology, to make progress. I think this is going to keep happening with untold potential for the future.”

The Great Math Mystery can now be viewed online in the United States. The program is also available on DVD.